Who Gets Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on July 27, 2022
3 min read

Lung cancer is the one of the most common types of cancer doctors diagnose each year in the U.S. The most common kind of lung cancer is non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

It makes up around 84% of all lung cancer diagnoses. It’s much more common than small-cell lung cancer (SCLC).

A fourth of all cancer deaths in the U.S. are lung cancer deaths.

The overall 5-year survival rate (the percentage of people still living after 5 years with the disease) is 22%. The overall 5-year survival rate for NSCLC is slightly higher, at 26%.

Doctors talk about 5-year survival rates to help give you an idea how you may fare with your disease. But many different factors can affect your specific disease course.

If your NSCLC is localized NSCLC, meaning it hasn’t spread outside your lung, your overall 5-year survival rate is 63%.

If it’s regional, meaning it has spread to nearby lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is about 35%.

Metastatic NSCLC that has spread to distant parts of your body has a 5-year survival rate of 7%.

Your chances of getting any type of cancer increase with age. Lung cancer is no exception. Most people who have it are 65 or older. The average age at diagnosis is 70. It’s rare to get lung cancer when you’re younger than 45.

Your age can also affect how well you do with your lung cancer treatment. Elderly people often don’t respond as well to chemotherapy treatments.

Men are more likely to develop lung cancer than women are. Experts think this could be because men are more likely to smoke than women.

Rates of lung cancer cases have gone down across the board, but they’ve decreased at different rates for men and women. Men began having a decrease in the number of new lung cancer cases in the mid-1980s. That decrease for women happened later, in the mid-2000s.

And the decrease in numbers of men getting lung cancer is sharper than the decrease in women.

Between 2009 and 2018, the rate of lung cancer diagnoses dropped 1.4% each year in women. For men, it dropped 2.8% each of those years.

But the 5-year survival rate for women with lung cancer is 25%, compared to 18% for men.

Studies on race and ethnicity on NSCLC survival rates show that the relationship isn’t simple.

The CDC reports that the risk of getting lung cancer is the same for Black and white people.

Both are the most likely groups to get the disease. American Indian and Alaska Native people are third most likely, followed by Asian and Pacific Island people. People of Hispanic descent are the least likely to get the disease, with half the rate of Black and white people.

Black men are about 12% more likely to get lung cancer than white men. For women, the difference flips: The rate is around 16% lower in Black women than in white women.

Overall lung cancer survival tends to be lower in lower-income neighborhoods than in higher-income communities.

Part of the reason for this is access to preventative care. Annual lung cancer screening can reduce the chances of dying from the disease by 20% if you’re in a high-risk category.

But people with lower incomes are less likely to qualify for these lung cancer screenings. And among those who do qualify, screening rates continue to be lower for people who live at or below the poverty line.

Research shows that your socioeconomic status – your race, ethnicity, and financial stability – has an impact on a lung cancer diagnosis, even after taking into account your smoking habits and age.

You’re at a higher risk of getting lung cancer if you have a lower socioeconomic status.

People without health insurance typically get a lung cancer diagnosis at a later stage of the disease than those who have insurance. A late diagnosis can mean you have a worse prognosis.

Being uninsured or having inadequate health insurance raises your risk of death after a lung cancer diagnosis.